British talent honoured by Spirits as film awards season starts to take shape

British actors, writers and directors have been listed among the nominees for the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards – a major US ceremony honouring lower budget American productions, in the run-up to the Oscars.

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan will be in the running for the Best Female Lead prize for her role in Promising Young Woman, whose British director Emerald Fennell is up for both the directing and screenwriting awards.

Riz Ahmed’s performance as a drummer losing his hearing in Sound of Metal has earned him a nomination in the Best Male Lead category, where he’s up against the late Chadwick Bozeman, for his final role as a jazz trumpeter in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal

In years where lower budget films have gone down well with both critics and audiences, the Spirits can overlap with the Oscars and in this most unpredictable of years – with most of the bigger films being held back because of the coronavirus crisis cinema closures – many of the films in contention for the Academy Awards will be among the smaller films, made outside the studio system.

For the first year, the organisers of the Independent Spirit Awards are honouring TV as well as film. One award already announced is Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which has been named the best ensemble cast in a new scripted series. It’s also up for Best New Scripted Series, alongside Sir Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series, which includes Mangrove and Lovers Rock, both films that were part of the official Cannes selection last year.

The full nominations list below gives an indication of what kind of productions are regarded as “independent TV” – but it’s not down to budget or network, because the producers include Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV and the BBC.


Best feature

  • First Cow
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Minari
  • Never Rarely Always Sometimes
  • Nomadland

Best first feature

  • I Carry You With Me
  • The Forty-Year Old Version
  • Miss Juneteenth
  • Nine Days
  • Sound of Metal

Best male lead

  • Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
  • Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Adarsh Gourav – The White Tiger
  • Rob Morgan – Bull
  • Steven Yeun – Minari

Best female lead

  • Nicole Beharie – Miss Juneteenth
  • Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Julia Garner – The Assistant
  • Frances McDormand – Nomadland
  • Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Best supporting male

  • Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Orion Lee – First Cow
  • Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
  • Glynn Turman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Benedict Wong – Nine Days

Best supporting female

  • Alexis Chikaeze – Miss Juneteenth
  • Yeri Han – Minari
  • Valerie Mahaffey – French Exit
  • Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Yuh-jung Youn – Minari

Best Director

  • Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
  • Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
  • Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
  • Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

Best screenplay

  • Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
  • Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
  • Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
  • Alice Wu – The Half of It

Best first screenplay

  • Kitty Green – The Assistant
  • Noah Hutton – Lapsis
  • Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
  • Andy Siara – Palm Springs
  • James Sweeney – Straight Up

John Cassavetes Award (best feature made for under $500,000/£364,000)

  • The Killing of Two Lovers
  • La Leyanda Negra
  • Lingua Franca
  • Residue
  • Saint Frances

Best cinematography

  • Jay Keitel – She Dies Tomorrow
  • Shabier Kirchner – Bull
  • Michael Latham – The Assistant
  • Hélène Louvart – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Joshua James Richards – Nomadland

Best editing

  • Andy Canny – The Invisible Man
  • Scott Cummings – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Merawi Gerima – Residue
  • Enat Sidi – I Carry You With Me
  • Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

Best international film

  • Bacurau (Brazil)
  • The Disciple (India)
  • Night of the Kings (Ivory Coast)
  • Preparations To Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Hungary)
  • Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Best documentary

  • Collective
  • Crip Camp
  • Dick Johnson is Dead
  • The Mole Agent
  • Time

Robert Altman Award (given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)

  • Winner: One Night in Miami

Producers Award

  • Lucas Joaquin
  • Gerry Kim
  • Kara Durrett

Someone to Watch Award

  • David Midell – director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain
  • Ekwa Msangi – director of Farewell Amor
  • Annie Silverstein – director of Bull

Truer Than Fiction Award (given to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition)

  • Cecilia Aldarondo – director of Landfall
  • Elegance Bratton – director of Pier Kids
  • Elizabeth Lo – director of Stray


Best new non-scripted or documentary series

  • Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children
  • City So Real
  • Immigration Nation
  • Love Fraud
  • We’re Here

Best new scripted series

  • I May Destroy You
  • Little America
  • Small Axe
  • A Teacher
  • Unorthodox

Best female performance in a scripted series

  • Elle Fanning – The Great
  • Shira Haas – Unorthodox
  • Abby McEnany – Work in Progress
  • Maitreyi Ramakrishnan – Never Have I Ever
  • Jordan Kristine Seamón – We Are Who We Are

Best male performance in a new scripted series

  • Adam Ali – Little America
  • Nicco Annan – P-Valley
  • Conphidance – Little America
  • Amit Rahav – Unorthodox
  • Harold Torres – ZeroZeroZero

Best ensemble cast in a new scripted series

  • Winner: I May Destroy You